The good news is that the avalanche of taxpayer-funded domino ads about how smart the B.C. government is will come to an end soon.
The bad news is that there’s another phase starting up.
Opposition leader Adrian Dix opened the first question period in more than eight months on Wednesday by teeing off on the advertising push.
It’s an old issue, because the multi-million-dollar campaign has been running for ages.
But he had some new ammunition — a leak from the B.C. Liberal caucus in the form of a strategic outline of the advertising master plan. You can tell it’s a (formerly) secret document because it acknowledges something quite frankly — “the campaign has helped decrease the credibility gap the government had.”
The advertising wizards also congratulated themselves that the first phase of the blitz “has helped decrease the knowledge gap around the government’s record.”
It did that by hammering relentlessly on the theme that every government in the world is wrestling with horrible economic problems and only the B.C. government (that shiny white domino that never falls over) is holding steady.
There can’t be an adult media consumer in the province who hasn’t viewed the ad a hundred times by now. It’s probably driven more people to buy PVRs with skip functions than any other single factor.
Elsewhere, the outline advises the Liberal caucus: “All parts of the campaign work together and drive one another. No one ad works alone and no piece of creative operates outside a media-buying and targeting strategy.”
That was definitely written by a salesperson who is reassuring a client halfway through a campaign that is worth millions.
According to the master plan, the idea is to “overcome the knowledge gap and build pride and emotion for B.C.’s economic record.” That equals “confidence, pride, security, new investment and more jobs. Our plan is working.”
Left unsaid, but patently obvious, is the working equation: Filled-in knowledge gap, plus pride and confidence, times a working plan equals a fourth B.C. Liberal term.
But they’re only part way through the equation, so there’s lots more money to be spent.
The post-budget push will involve an equally massive campaign that promotes “the values behind [a]balanced budget” and “promote specifics in the budget.”
There was a time when post-budget advertising was confined to strictly factual information campaigns about how the budget affects taxpayers. But this is not that time.
So brace yourself to have the following theme drummed into your head: “Our budget is important for household economics. It is what saves us all from economic risk. It is made for our future and all B.C. families. There are services important to British Columbians in the budget.”
The document outlines $12.7 million spent on producing ads and buying air time, although that’s by no means the extent of the total budget.
According to the schedule, Premier Christy Clark’s government has dropped $7.1 million by now. It has another $2.1 million earmarked for one post-budget ad, $2 million for a second post-budget ad and $1.5 million for a skills ad to do with the importance of job training.
Dix and his lead critics spent most of question period on the topic. Clark defended the skills-training spots and bypassed the partisan nature of most of the campaign. Liberals braced for the attack by bringing up the ad budgets of the last New Democrat governments in the 1990s, which were well above the Liberal range.
Dix denied having any spending authority over those lavish outlays. But he was chief of staff to the premier for several of those campaigns, so he doesn’t come to the topic with completely clean hands.
The Opposition’s manufactured outrage was also undercut by one of their own MLAs, Fraser-Nicola’s Harry Lali, who was caught twice recently making partisan attacks funded by his constituency allowance, meaning they were paid for by taxpayers. Lali, with 14 years’ experience as an MLA, claimed it was a mistake.
Dix last month committed to outlawing partisan government-funded advertising, and giving the auditor general power to can any such ads.
But we’re still several million dollars and one election away from seeing if that would ever come to pass.